After Midlands run, Alburnett native Tanner Sloan sees bright future with South Dakota State
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Last weekend, Tanner Sloan stood on the floor of the Sears Centre here, trying to make sense of perhaps the most exhilarating wrestling weekend of his life.
A true freshman wrestler at South Dakota State, Sloan reached the finals at the 2018 Midlands Championships. Over the two-day event, the two-time state champion from Alburnett had gone from relative unknown to tournament darling after a runner-up finish at 197 pounds.
“Being here, in this atmosphere beating some tough kids,” Sloan said after stepping off the podium on Sunday evening, “I feel like I really proved to people that I can hang with anybody.”
Iowa and Northern Iowa left the Midlands as the respective team champ and runner-up, but it was the Iowa native who arguably stole the show. Sloan became the first true freshman to make the Midlands finals since 2016, another stellar line for his rapidly growing wrestling résumé.
Sloan, who is redshirting for the Jackrabbits this season, is now 18-2 overall after his Midlands run. He’s won the Bison Open, the Buena Vista Open and the UNI Open. He also reached the finals of the Daktronics Open.
Of his 18 victories, 12 have included bonus points — seven technical falls, three major decisions and two pins. He’s beaten Nebraska’s Eric Schultz, currently ranked No. 10 nationally at 197 by Trackwrestling, as well as Iowa’s Jacob Warner, who’s ranked No. 6.
And yet, Sloan wasn’t a highly touted recruit, like both Schultz (No. 26 overall in 2016) and Warner (No. 7 in 2017). He grew up an hour from Northern Iowa and 50 minutes from Iowa City, but heultimately chose South Dakota State over — wait for it — Division III Coe College.
“The decision was academics,” Sloan said. “It wasn’t just wrestling. It wasn’t coaches. But I’m glad I picked South Dakota State. I like the school. I like the coaches. It just felt right.”
► More coverage from the 2018 Midlands
- Alex Marinelli's big win, Spencer Lee's loss, and another team title for Iowa
- Hawkeye wrestlers flash strength and depth on Day One at Midlands
Sloan was the definition of an under-the-radar wrestling recruit. He did not compete much in freestyle and Greco-Roman, the Olympic disciplines, while in high school. That experience often helps with exposure for some of the nation’s best prep wrestlers.
Instead, Sloan opted to help on the family farm, where he regularly tended to as many as 65 sheep and eight cows. He is an active member of the 4-H and FFA. He is studying animal science.
When he wasn’t on the farm, Sloan was one of Iowa’s best high school wrestlers. He ended up a four-time state place-winner at Alburnett, compiling 180 wins and two state titles, in 2016 and 2018.
Despite not garnering much recruiting attention, Sloan garnered the interest of South Dakota State — which, at the time, featured former Iowa State wrestlers Chris Bono and Jon Reader on the coaching staff, as well as Cody Caldwell, a former Waverly-Shell Rock standout who wrestled at Northern Iowa.
“He probably didn’t get the recognition he probably deserved because he didn’t wrestle much in the offseason,” Caldwell said. “He’s just tough. He’s strong and he’s extremely tough on top. You saw him at the Midlands. He’s able to score points in a hurry.”
Sloan committed in early March. Bono and Reader left for Wisconsin after the 2018 NCAA Championships. Damion Hahn was hired in April after spending 12 seasons as an assistant at Cornell, and he retained Caldwell, who talked with Sloan and convinced him to stay on board.
“We thought Tanner Sloan could be special,” Caldwell continued. “We really thought that this kid could be a force to be reckoned with. We’re very excited about him.”
The rest, of course, has played out this season.
Sloan has been a menace in all positions, outscoring his opponents by a combined 207-52. He scored three takedowns against Schultz at the Daktronics Open. At the Midlands, he turned a 3-2 deficit against Warner into a 14-3 lead after a barrage of tilts in just one period. He went on to beat Warner by technical fall, one of four wins over seeded wrestlers on his way to the finals.
There, Sloan ran into a buzzsaw. Princeton’s Patrick Brucki scored five takedowns en route to a 13-4, major-decision victory. Brucki is a returning NCAA tournament qualifier ranked No. 3 nationally at 197 by Trackwrestling.
After the podium ceremony, Sloan walked back to his team wearing a big smile. A few Iowa fans in the crowd waved and gave him a thumbs-up. A year ago, he was in the Alburnett wrestling room, training for a state championship.
But on that Sunday evening, after his stellar performance at one of college wrestling’s toughest midseason tournaments, he couldn’t help but think a little bigger.
“Each round boosted my confidence, just a little more and a little more,” Sloan said. “I felt much better each time out.
“I’m definitely shooting for a national title next year. I feel like that’s attainable.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.